Nevada Consumer Advocate Tim Hay defended his policy of hiring and paying consultants, saying the state is getting more than its money's worth through lower utility rates and legal recoveries.
"We're bringing bucketloads of money to the state, and most of that is going to consumers," said Hay, who represents ratepayers during rate hearings before the Public Utilities Commission. "We can justify every dime we spend."
Hay's response came Thursday, a day after the state's Executive Branch Audit Committee reviewed a draft audit that found Hay's Bureau of Consumer Protection office spent $539,999 during the fiscal year ending June 30 on consultants and expert witnesses. Officials said the spending was more than 40 states in the nation.
Hay's office handled big rate increase requests in 2002 - including a record $922 million Nevada Power Co. rate hike that the PUC cut almost in half.
Hay noted he negotiated a $48 million settlement in March from El Paso Corp. over alleged manipulation of the natural-gas market.
His bureau also takes credit for $719,000 in recoveries from legal fights over deceptive trade practices and $93,000 for antitrust actions.
The draft audit recommends the attorney general evaluate the cost of using staff workers, who typically earn $42 to $55 an hour, instead of consultants charging $175 to $210 an hour.
The consumer protection office currently employs about 30 people, including 20 deputy attorneys general or utility experts. The Public Utilities Commission, by comparison, employs about 80 people.
Hay, a Democrat appointed by former Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa, has been at odds with current Attorney General Brian Sandoval, a Republican who serves on the audit committee. Hay's term expires in 2005.